Global climate and development


Climate is one of defining aspects of our life. Water supply and agriculture – which provides food for all and livelihoods for rural communities, i.e. for most of the human population – critically depend on it. Our way of life is adjusted to the climate of the part of the Earth which we live in. Our economy is built around the current climate. Extreme weather events, such as floods, hurricanes and storms, radically disrupt lives of affected people and cause enormous damage.

What do we know

One factor which influences global climate is the concentration of so-called greenhouse gases. They play very important role, if they had not exist, Earth’s temperatures would have been about 30°C lower than now. Mutual relation between greenhouse gases and temperature is highly complicated, but at some points there are no doubts:

Higher concentration of water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), freon and some other gases in the atmosphere leads to increases in global average temperature. It is not a new finding. It was discovered by British scientist John Tyndall in 1859.

Concentrations of some greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased as a result of economic activity. Most importantly, burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – increases the atmospheric level of CO2. Right now the CO2 level in the atmosphere is higher than any time in the last 650,000 years. Unless we radically reduce industrial emissions, it will double against the pre-industrial concentration some time in mid-21st century.

Thanks to advances in climate science over the last several decades, we know something about the extent of climate change. Crucial for this are extremely sophisticated computer models, fed with data on climate variables, which calculate future changes under various pollution scenarios. Current models show that we can expect:

An increase in global mean temperature by several degrees. The best estimate is that the global mean temperature will increase by 4 °C during this century (90% probability range is 2.4–6.4 degrees). Slower but persistent increase in emissions would lead to an increase by about 3.4 degrees (2.0–5.4 degrees range for 90% probability).

Just for illustration: were all CO2 emissions stopped immediately, the best estimate for such a theoretical scenario is 0.6 °C increase in temperature.

Precipitation patterns will change, albeit in various ways. Generally speaking, increases of precipitation are projected, usually with very high confidence, in high latitudes: Arctic, Siberia, Canada, Scandinavia. More moderate increase would happen in some tropics.

However, much more important are negative trends. Most subtropical regions should expect significant decreases of rains. Even in a scenario which assumes that CO2 emissions continue to increase by 2050 and decline thereafter, rains are projected to decrease by more than 20% in Mediterranean, parts of North Africa, South Africa (southern winter) and much of Central Asia (summer).

Mountain glaciers would melt and retreat relatively fast, with radical decreases in volume already in coming decades. This is important especially in India and Latin America. Hundreds of millions of people here depend on rivers flowing from Himalayas and Andes for their water supply.

Hotter atmosphere generally leads to more frequent weather extremes. Projections show that an increased intensity (wind speed, rain intensity) of tropical hurricanes and typhoons is likely to occur with increasing levels of greenhouse gases (66% probability). Total frequency of hurricanes and typhoons is expected to decrease, albeit with lower probability, due to smaller incidence of relatively weak storms. More or less the same pattern (more intense, less frequent) is predicted for storms outside tropics. Extreme precipitation events, leading to floods in Europe, Asian monsoon region and elsewhere, are expected.

Links: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPCC : Climate Change 2007 : The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers. Working Group I Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.

IPCC : Climate Change 2007 : Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Summary for Policymakers. Working Group II Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.

Climate change and developing countries

Communities and natural systems around the world are already experiencing the effects of climate change, and scientists warn that impacts on the developing world will be far more devastating than in industrialised states.
This is because developing countries have economies that are generally more reliant on climate-sensitive natural resources such as agriculture, fisheries and forests; that poor people do not have the resources to mitigate the impacts of climate change; and infrastructure is far less able to cope with the impacts of severe weather events.
This is why many development groups and aid agencies have joined environmental organisations in advocacy of more substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and more effective help to affected poor countries.

Implications of climate change on development assistance policy

Climate will change, affecting livelihoods of poor people, especially in rural communities. The scale of the change depends on the amount of future greenhouse gas emissions. However, some change is already inevitable. Development assistance needs to adjust to this new reality, so that it helps the poor farmers and others to adapt to new circumstances, and does not support solutions contributing to climate change.

The scale of climate change depends on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions – so that ambitious steps to reduce carbon pollution are urgently needed. Governments and industry have to invest in clean, highly effective technologies, support innovations and promote energy modernisation. The responsibility lies mainly in rich world, which has historically produced much more CO2 per capita than developing countries.

Priorities of development policy can help to spread low carbon technologies in poor countries, so that their economic growth and higher quality of life do not depend on higher and higher pollution. At the same time, distributed renewable energy technologies will bring electricity and heat supplies to rural communities of the third world without the costly power infrastructure. This will contribute to energy sovereignty as well as prevents further deforestation.


The Climate of poverty : facts, fears and hope. Christian Aid : 2006.

Andrew Simms et al. Up in smoke? : Threats from, and responses to, the impact of global warming on human development. International Institute for Environment and Development : 2004

Stern review : The Economics of Climate Change. Executive Summary.2006

Adapting to climate change: What’s needed in poor countries, and who should pay. Oxfam : 2007.

Alternatives to current model of development

Developed, rich countries of the global North and their model of development, which depends on the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – is primarily responsible for past and present greenhouse gas emissions. This is dangerous not only for the climate, but also for the associated risks for economy, security and democracy.

In addition, in the last decades this model intensified by the process of economic globalisation, which has dis-embedded production and consumption patterns from national state boundaries and transferred them on global level where they are not yet regulated. Global economic growth is then structurally interlinked with higher emissions.

Therefore it is necessary to offer developing countries an alternative to contemporary development models so that they will not repeat obsolete strategies leading to economic prosperity and social and political stability. That is to say, to avoid development that intensifies climate change and threatens economy, security and human rights, it is necessary to create a development model that reflects the need for an adequate reaction to climate change and one that also does not contribute to it in the future.

Basic cornerstones of progressive policy related to climate change are: adaptation measures, which go hand in hand with the gradual lowering of greenhouse gas emissions. This demands conceptual changes in energy policy with an emphasis on introducing renewable energy resources and becoming more energy efficiency.

To be able to come into existence, these changes need economic-political shifts and instruments such as ecological or carbon tax reform, the setting of suitable economic incentives for promotion of innovative technologies and effective energy efficiency measures.

These changes have to be approved globally because climate change is global problem concerning all nations and states. According to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, developed countries must take a lead in international negotiations and actions towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change.


REID, Hannah, HUQ, Saleemul: Adaptation to climate change: How we are set to cope with the impacts? International Institute for Environment and Development, 2007

RONQUILLO, Athena (et al.): Future Investment: a Sustainable Investment Plan For The Power Sector To Save The Climate. EREC, Greenpeace, 2007

STERN, N., et al.: The Economics of Climate Change: Stern Review: Executive Summary, 2006

TESKE, Sven (et al.): Energy (r)evolution: a sustainable world energy outlook. EREC, Greenpeace, 2007